Over the almost decade of running the Shrink4Men counseling practice, there are certain questions clients ask that are as common as a child asking, “Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green?” Even clients who, by their own admission, have read countless blogs and watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos about narcissism, borderline personality disorder and psychopathy still ask these questions. One of the most common topics clients ponder regarding narcissistic, psychopathic and borderline spouses, partners and exes is about anger and conflict. Inevitably and understandably, at some point a client asks:
Who has the energy to be angry all the time? Why can’t she or he just move on? Why does it seem like every conversation becomes an argument? Why does she or he make a federal case over non-issues? Why does she or he see contact (*if divorced and sharing minor children) as an opportunity to take a jab at me? Who has the energy for this? Am I going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life? Do I really have to deal with this for another 13 years until the youngest child turns 18? How do other people cope with this?”
Anger, bitterness and rage are rocket fuel to high-conflict personalities. They may play the victim, but they derive a sense of power from baiting their targets into pointless, zero sum conflicts. You can try to JADE (Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain), but all that accomplishes is playing the narcissist’s game — a game you cannot win.
A common error some clients make when establishing boundaries with the narcissist, frequently for the first time, is confusing having boundaries with not backing down from a fight. This isn’t necessarily true. When dealing with a narcissist or other disordered abuser, effective boundaries typically has nothing to do with standing your ground or not backing down. Oftentimes, having effective boundaries with a narcissist or borderline means no longer taking the bait and spinning around in the circular arguments of their insults, bogus allegations, passive-aggressive snipes, the never-ending airing of grievances since the dawn of time, victim shtick, “You can’t control me anymore!” monologues, criticism of your parenting abilities and endless post mortem on why everything in your now defunct marriage is all your fault. It means not going tit for tat in email exchanges about who really did what and who was the most wrong. WHO CARES?!
Sometimes clients share their texts and email exchanges with their ex in which they’re engaging in the pointless back-and-forth. It’s painful to read. Not because of the nastiness (although in many cases the cruelty is extreme), but because of the sheer futility and waste of energy my clients expend arguing with a child in an adult’s body. The most effective boundary you can have with someone like that is to disengage and detach. In other words, you win the war by not participating in the petty and puerile skirmishes.
Have you ever been able to dislodge your narcissist from their distorted reality and victim narrative? Of course not. Has the narcissist ever admitted that one of their lies is a lie even when presented with irrefutable proof that their lies are lies? Of course not. Even if you can get them to temporarily admit to having lied, it ends up being your fault somehow. And then, in short order, the narcissist or borderline reverts back to insisting that the lie is the truth. Like I said — pointless. Telling the narcissist or the borderline that they’re an abusive narcissist or borderline in response to their crap is just an “adult” version of I-know-you-are,-but-what-am-I.” Even worse, THE NARCISSIST GETS OFF ON IT. Think about that.
Did you just throw up a little in your mouth?
This is one of the reasons I’m a broken record regarding the joy of No Contact or Low Contact. The best and most effective boundary is simply to not engage in the narcissist’s bullshit. They win when you do. If you must respond, deflect with humor (not sarcasm) or just look at them like your dog does when Rover is wondering, “Human, WTF are you on about?” If the narcissist wants to have a conflict-gasm, let them get off all by their lonesome. Surely you must have more enjoyable ways to spend your time. If not, find some.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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